I spent yesterday wandering about the city, peeking in on Olympic sites and pavilions.
All was quiet. Aside from the bunches of blue-coated volunteers huddled about skytrain and subway stations, and the usual rush of commuter traffic, the Olympic Spirit is apparently still en route.
Sure, there are flags everywhere, draped from downtown department stores, bridges, apartment windows, and car antennae. Every few feet one is bombarded by official advertising and multi-lingual signage.
I began my foot-soldiering at the top of the city, where the new hockey rink resides behind blue barricades on the UBC campus, and descended further and further into the quiet of a regular urban Monday.
Granville Island, home of the French Quarter and Atlantic Canada House, (appropriately taking over the Island’s liveliest oceanside pub) was practically deserted. Workmen drilled, art students mingled, and the Coca-Cola “eco” trucks sat idle as seagulls poked about, waiting for the generous crowds.
Of course, there are a few hints of what is to come this weekend – the sly political messaging and the ubiquitous flags catch the eye.
After pondering one such artistic stand against “the late winter of 2010,” I hopped on the demonstration streetcar that carries folk from the Island to the Village of the Athletes. (Well, technically, it stops outside the Village, as none of us are security-cleared to enter said commune.)
Replete with leather handholds and a faux luxury interior, the demonstration cars are piloted by volunteer drivers, whose job it is to make sure the train doesn’t exceed 20km per hour. Our driver was red-coated and grandfatherly, saying that driving the cars is easy, “just pushing buttons, really.”
Bombardier, who designed the tricked out shuttles, is hoping to convince city investors to keep the line running permanently. The message is, “Look Vancouver! You, too, could ride in lazy luxury.” The attendants at the stations have time to lean, and so do you, as the scenery crawls by.
By the time I arrived at Yaletown to find the LiveCity concert venue, I was looking for some excitement, but all I came across were more barricades, empty streets and distant white tents.
I was still in the desert of downtown and doubting the promise of Fantastic Events, when I spotted some very expensive cars and very beautifully dressed women.
Bella, bella! I had found the Casa Italia, comfortably housed in the classy brick of the Roundhouse Community Centre. Surrounded by casually parked porsches and gleaming beamers, men in tailored suits and cashmere overcoats, and resplendent women, I felt like a country rube in my hoodie and jeans.
Leaving the glitter of Rome behind, I wandered into the heart of the city. Twilight descended on the skaters at Robson Square, and I was caught up in a line-up for tickets, entertained by the griping, suburban political comment of several well-provided for, middle-aged women who were there to pick up tickets for their families.
Paper lanterns and camera-ready silhouettes lit up the carless Granville street, as a small clutch of Bulgarian athletes were momentarily stunned by the BC Pavilion’s seizure-inducing strobe light display outside the Art Gallery.
The line took half an hour, and as I clutched my (heat-sensitive) cheap ticket to a mid-week victory celebration at the big old BC Place, I wondered whether all the predictions, the protests, the shiny new infrastructure, and the advertising had failed to move the citizens of Vancouver. We’re like children at the circus, somewhat bored with the elephants and the chimpanzees already, and wondering where the bathroom is.